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Commentary: Moving forward, mostly 

Forward New Orleans finds room for improvement

Last week, a coalition of local groups known as Forward New Orleans (FNO) released its latest progress report on 11 public policy initiatives, with the aim of gauging how well city officials have kept their campaign promises since their elections in 2014. The results were mostly positive, reflecting both how far the city has come since the 2010 municipal elections and how far we still have to go. Among the areas ripe for improvement are the criminal justice system, blight reduction and city services and infrastructure.

  FNO is a coalition of business interests, neighborhood groups and civic organizations formed in 2009 to outline city priorities five years after Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal levees. The group sought pledges from mayoral and council candidates during the 2010 municipal elections and has issued reports and scorecards in the years since. The latest report is the second issued during the current mayoral and council terms.

  The 11 issues FNO tracks are: the criminal justice system; city finances; the civil service system; blight; economic development; economic opportunity for small, local and disadvantaged businesses; city services and infrastructure; the Sewerage & Water Board; city contracting; public education; and institutionalization of best practices. FNO uses "data driven" metrics to score public officials' performance across that spectrum of issues.

  As with the group's 2015 report, FNO found that city leaders performed well in the area of economic development. The "one-stop shop" for permits and licensure stands among the city's successes, as does the plan for a new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (set to open next year) and the recent addition of international flights to London and Frankfurt.

  FNO praised the city's budgeting process, which has come a long way since the disastrous fiscal policies of Mayor Ray Nagin. Today the city budget is truly balanced (as required by law) and no longer depends on one-time funds. One remaining suggestion by FNO is moving the city's "budgeting for outcomes" community meetings to May or June — so that citizens can have more meaningful input and budget planners can have more time to evaluate and incorporate that input.

  Among the glaring negatives: the criminal justice system still hasn't fulfilled the mandate of electronic monitoring of some arrestees. In fact, that program has been shelved. Other cities seem to have figured out how to do this; why can't New Orleans? FNO also urges all criminal justice agencies to adopt an integrated budgeting and planning process rather than fighting over scraps as they have done for years. That seems a tall order, given the competing aims of the New Orleans Police Department, the District Attorney's office, the Public Defender's office, the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and so many others. What's needed is less turf protection and more selfless concern for the greater public good. Those goals remain for the next mayor, council and sheriff to work on — with the DA and others.

  For more about FNO and its 2017 progress report, visit www.forwardneworleans.com.

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